Like most small farms and homesteads we had to have some poultry.
We wanted a dual purpose breed for meat & eggs like many farmers striving for a more self sufficient life. After raising Dominiques, Orpingtons, Sex links, Speckled Sussex, Buck Eyes, Turkens, many bantams…etc, etc…and etc!..I enjoyed all of them… many have huge great tasting eggs,, rich , flavorful meat. The problem is I found them to be very expensive and not very efficient to raise & feed for eggs/meat….and fairly high input on the management side too.The duel purpose chicken seems to be a homestead legend… if it efficiently lays eggs , its not so good for meat…if its efficient for meat, its not a good egg layer…. and even if its a egg laying breed they still seem to take winter off! But the feed bill doesn’t get a break!
(*update, we have found silkie chickens to be very efficient , year around egg layers and very low input with small carcass but fast processing, exceptional tasting healthy meat. Our expectations of what we want out of a chicken have changed and are more realistic going into our 6th year subsistence farming)
But ducks….Ducks are an excellent, year around egg laying, dual purpose bird! They lay delicious eggs and their meat is amazing. All ducks eggs are nutrient dense and have all been delicious, but I have to say right here.. the Muscovy has the most unique and best tasting duck egg we’ve ever ate(second only to goose eggs!) But keep in mind muscovies are primarily seasonal and take winters off like most chickens
So a great meat source, great egg source… AND they have a third use…the down! Ducks have a lovely layer of down that can be harvested when they are used for meat. Down is very expensive and can be sold or used to make extra nice items!
4 uses….Rendered duck fat is also an amazing plus to these birds! Well, the mallard types have that wonderful fat , The Muscovy duck is a very lean meat but can still have a nice layer of fat. Duck fat is prized all over the world by great chefs. Thanks to our pasture pigs lard and rendered duck & goose fats we no longer are dependent on a grocery store for cooking and baking fats!
I have or have had Pekins, Muscovys, Mallards, Khaki Campbells, Cayuga, Runners, Anconas and Welsh Harlequins. Much like we chased after the perfect dual purpose chicken or the perfect dual purpose goat(also a homestead legend!) I have tried many breeds.. they are all pretty nice to have around and useful.
They are all excellent pest & grass eaters. They are very low maintenance for me ..taking very little of my time from the busy farm but provide much in return to us.
Their soiled, composted bedding makes one of the best fertilizers on the farm for my extensive gardens.
Like any other animal bloodline has much to do with your success! Poultry is wildly inbreed and very often bred for reasons a serious homesteader does not care about. For example I ordered Anconas from a small breeder in GA that claimed to have a very productive bloodline I was interested in…the Ancona is raved about by many as the perfect homestead duck.. however this breeder didn’t tell me her stock was crossed with runner and crested…making them smaller than they should have been..and way more nervous than they should have been…and they didn’t lay the pretty green eggs..which I personally don’t care about but ‘colored’ eggs sell better if you are looking to sell… ofcourse I didn’t exactly see the crest as being a plus for any reason! so these birds didn’t work out for me…. They are a rare breed like many rare breeds they can be hard to find and people do not cull as they should because they bring more money. Yet, they are not helping the breed by selling poor quality animals.. we cull for the good of the breed..no matter what the selling price is…. its the only thing that will save rare breed livestock.
Ducks may be alot of work for some people…like for those of you who have small pieces of land keep in mind they are messy and can get really smelly if kept in a small area. People like to say they don’t need a pond or creek but they will dirty up any and all water they come in contact with and even make their own mini- mud puddle ponds if they don’t have their own pools. They can’t help it,,they are waterfowl after all! So don’t except a duck to act like a chicken. Blog post: No short cuts, ducks are work
* Though many would never consider a silkie chicken a duel purpose bird we have found them to be very efficient , lower maintenance than most chickens and a healthy meat and egg source for us here. Beautiful and very enjoyable chickens to keep on any size farm or even a urban homestead.For more info my blog post:The Case for silkie chickens
And as of 2016 , The silkies have proven themselves over and over as the best, most low input chickens I’ve ever had. We are still keeping Muscovies , primarily as meat producers..they are just so good at it! But have sold out of our other ducks to make room for our ever growing goose flocks that need the extra pasture and housing.
As we get deeper and deeper into fine tuning what works best for our climate/land and time management .. sometimes we have to even let go of livestock that works really well all because something else worked just a little tiny bit better for us. As with everything,, no matter if its a pig, tomato variety or poultry, there is no one size fits all… all things have to be taken into consideration when picking the perfect fowl for your farm.
I enjoy talking about poultry and waterfowl please feel free to email me with any questions you might have. I’m happy to help out new homesteaders when I can.